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The department claims it remains on track but what's happening with the National Broadband Plan?

SSE pulled out of the tendering process yesterday.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten
Communications Minister Denis Naughten
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Jul 30th 2018, 9:10 PM

SSE YESTERDAY PULLED out of the tendering process for the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

In its statement confirming the move, the company said: “We wish our former consortium partners and the Government well as they continue to progress discussions for the delivery of this important infrastructure project for Ireland.”

Minutes before this statement was released yesterday afternoon, Enet – the consortium with which SSE was working and the sole remaining bidder – confirmed that this group now comprises Granahan McCourt, John Laing plc and the Irish Infrastructure Fund.

Attempting to steady the waters, David McCourt, Chairman of Enet, said: “In building this consortium, we have brought together the best global expertise in building networks, particularly in telecoms, and in coordinating all of the elements required to finance a project of this size in partnership with government…

“As I’ve said before, the process is very much on track. We’re just weeks away from submitting our final tender. The team is very focused on concluding the procurement phase of this project and moving swiftly into delivery.”

Eir

Yesterday’s announcement was the latest blow to the process, of which Eir also pulled out back in January.

This company had already rolled out company broadband – which is a higher quality, higher speed broadband, to 70% of homes across Ireland – with about 540,000 homes and businesses still remaining to be connected.

The NBP aims to give 750,000 premises nationwide a minimum download speed of 30Mbps. This also covers Irish businesses that currently have no access to broadband from commercial operators.

The government had placed a tender out for the remainder of the process, and two bidders were in the mix – Eir and Enet.

Eir, having proceeded with its own rural broadband rollout which took 300,000 premises off the list for the NBP, was thought to have been the most likely winner of the tender before it removed itself from the process.

At the time, Eir CEO Richard Moat told Morning Ireland: “We took this decision after a long process, it’s being going on for three years, and the contract that the process is based upon has been increasingly onerous…

“The overall investment environment was not conducive and we couldn’t make a business case stack up. So, regrettably, we had to pull out.”

‘Shambles’

Following on from SSE’s announcement yesterday, opposition parties hit out at the government.

Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on communications Timmy Dooley said the viability of the plan is “now under threat to such an extent that it is conceivable that no contract will be signed this side of 2020″.

As of yet, SSE has not outlined its reasons for pulling out but it’s clear as night follows day that the process has to date been so convoluted and bureaucratic that every major commercial player has not felt comfortable continuing.

Sinn Féin’s communications spokesperson Brian Stanley said the plan is “hanging on by a thread”, while his Labour counterpart Seán Sherlock stated: “Public trust is shot to pieces and the broadband plan is in shambles, and citizens will bear the brunt of this latest failure.”

In a statement, the Department of Communications said it is in the final stages of a procurement process to appoint a company to roll out high speed broadband to all houses and businesses in every area of the country.

A spokesman said: “The NBP remains on track, with a final bid expected from the e-net consortium in the coming weeks. It is intended the procurement process will reach a conclusion shortly thereafter.

“The e-net consortium has reaffirmed its commitment to the National Broadband Plan and timelines around the procurement process. A formal notification from the consortium with regard to structural changes is awaited.

“The Government has allocated an initial €275 million in the Capital Plan (Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021), published on 29 September 2015, for the initial years of the network build-out.

“This €275m represents an initial stimulus for the first five years.  Significant further funding will be required over the lifetime of the proposed 25 year contract. The total value of the State subsidy has yet to be finalised and will only be known after the competitive tender process has concluded and final tender has been received.”

With reporting from Fora.ie and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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Órla Ryan

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